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Finding lead in turmeric

A person stands in the middle of a market stall. In the foreground are bags of spices and vegetables, in the background are cans and bottles of other food goods
Photo credit: Abir Abdullah/Asian Development Bank
Sep 24 2019
Research, Stanford, Students

It’s billed as a health booster and healing agent, but it may be the source of cognitive defects and other severe ailments. A new Stanford-led study reveals that turmeric – a commonly used spice throughout South Asia – is sometimes adulterated with a lead-laced chemical compound in Bangladesh, one of the world’s predominant turmeric-growing regions.

Long banned from food products, lead is a potent neurotoxin considered unsafe in any quantity. A related analysis published recently confirms for the first time that turmeric is likely the primary contributor to elevated blood lead levels among Bangladeshis surveyed.

“People are unknowingly consuming something that could cause major health issues,” said the papers’ lead author Jenna Forsyth, a postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “We know adulterated turmeric is a source of lead exposure, and we have to do something about it.”

Lead Author Jenna Forsyth is a SPICE funding recipient.